- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Whether the Washington Redskins’ next coach is Gregg Williams or emerging front-runner Jim Fassel, he will have less power than Joe Gibbs.

Vinny Cerrato, owner Dan Snyder’s long-time chief lieutenant, was promoted to executive vice president/football operations yesterday and, according to a statement by the team, “will assume responsibility of all aspects of the team’s football organization — including personnel, the team roster, scouting and salary cap management.”

The announcement came a few hours after an executive with another NFL team confirmed Fassel interviewed again with Snyder and Cerrato on Monday and said the former New York Giants coach was the “mystery” candidate whose identity has been the subject of recent speculation.

After Gibbs’ retirement 15 days ago, Snyder told the coaching staff he wanted the hiring wrapped up in two weeks.

Fassel and Williams remain the front-runners, although Cerrato’s ascension in rank isn’t a great sign for Williams.

“It’s kind of a strange process, don’t you think?” the executive said. “[Snyder] made it pretty clear when Joe retired that stability was part of his platform, which automatically meant to me they were hiring from within.”

Since Williams began the interview process — and wasn’t immediately installed as Gibbs’ replacement — there has been widespread speculation that friction between Cerrato and Williams was causing the delay.

“They’re re-distributing Joe’s responsibilities, and it’s obvious the new head coach won’thave as much of a say,” the executive said. “They may go to a more formal GM-type structure even though Vinny won’t hold the title — his new title is very strong. It signifies a separation of powers.”

Cerrato having more control also could mean Snyder is itching to get more involved after playing a supporting role with Gibbs.

Added a league source: “Even if Vinny’s in charge, you know that Snyder’s really in charge.”

A veteran Redskins player continued to hope Williams gets the job even with Cerrato’s elevation.

“It’s kind of crazy right now,” the player said. “This thing has been taking a long time. Gregg knows this team better than anybody else. Vinny’s not a bad person, but he was here when they made some terrible mistakes with personnel.”

It remains unlikely the Redskins will hire a person under the title of general manager.

“I hope they don’t change the Joe Gibbs way of running things,” another veteran player said. “I would hate to see what we’ve got going ripped apart.”

Snyder and Cerrato weren’t available for comment, and Cerrato did not return a phone call to his office.

Cerrato, who previously held the title of vice president/football operations, has been with the Redskins for two stints and eight seasons.

He joined the Redskins in the summer of 1999 after Snyder bought the team. Before the 2001 season, he lost a face-off with coach Marty Schottenheimer and was fired by Snyder only to be brought back a year later as director of player personnel.

In a statement, Snyder said, “The appointment formalizes the structure the team has operated under in recent years.”

Cerrato has served as Snyder’s right hand during the search for a coach, a journey that has led them to Fassel, who is the first offensive coach to interview with the Redskins.

Fassel was a candidate in 2004 to replace Steve Spurrier before Gibbs opted to come out of retirement.

Fassel, 58, who spent the past season doing radio commentary for Westwood One, went 58-53-1 in seven seasons as the Giants’ coach (1997-2003). Late in the 2000 season, Fassel made his famous guarantee the team would reach the postseason. They reached the Super Bowl before losing to Baltimore. He went 2-3 in the playoffs with the Giants.

From 2004 to October 2006, Fassel was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator under close friend Brian Billick. During that span, the Ravens finished 31st and 24th in yards the first two seasons. He was fired when Baltimore ranked 29th in yards after six games in 2006.

“Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve gotten the offense up and running pretty fast,” Fassel said after his firing. “It didn’t happen here and the reason, I believe, is that I wasn’t in full control.”

It is assumed Fassel would call the plays for the Redskins, making Al Saunders’ return unlikely. It would also mean quarterback Jason Campbell would be playing in his third system in four seasons.

“Any new coach is going to want to bring in his own staff,” the second veteran player said. “You would hate to see a young quarterback start over again with another new offense.”

Fassel’s strength is developing quarterbacks.

“He won a division title with Danny Kanell at quarterback, and he got Kerry Collins to play pretty good, too,” a league source said. “I’m not sure that Baltimore situation was all his fault, because they were trying to run his offense and Billick’s offense and it just didn’t work.”

Phone messages to Fassel and agent Steve Rosner were not returned.

Before Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the Giants and Green Bay Packers, Fassel told The Washington Times he was not the mystery candidate and had not heard from the Redskins.

The NFL executive didn’t rule out Fassel being considered for the offensive coordinator spot should Williams or another coach get the top job. Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnolou also could be on the Redskins’ radar.

Staff writer David Elfin contributed to this article.

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